I want to say a few words about our master of ceremonies today, Sarah Smarsh. First, I’m actually a bit star-struck. She’s a New York Times Best-selling author and National Book Award Finalist.
Sarah’s story – one she tells honestly and without reservation – is a story shared by many in this state. She is a fifth-generation Kansan and a true inspiration to me and so many others.
But maybe most importantly, she is an inspiration to our children. Our children from every community – who may be struggling, who may face adversity.
What Sarah has demonstrated is that hard work and grit makes a difference. And that all children – no matter who they are or where they come from – are precious. And they can do great things if given the opportunity.
Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your story – Kansas’ story – with the world.
I’m humbled and proud to stand here today. To lead this great state we love. To begin to turn the page and bring about a new chapter in the inspiring story of Kansas.
We gather at this unique moment in America’s history. As the values that shaped our very foundation are being tested. The ideals that bind us are being strained. And sometimes it can feel like the forces of division are succeeding. But it’s at these very moments when we’re being tested the most, that Kansans always shine. It’s who we are.
When the evils of slavery came knocking on our door at the dawn of the civil war, Kansans fought for freedom. And joined the union as a Free State.
When women struggled to gain the right to be recognized in our democracy, Kansas was among the first states to give us the right to vote. When fascism threatened the free world about eighty years ago, Kansas trained the fighter pilots who joined the Allied Forces under the leadership of our native son – Dwight Eisenhower.
Our resilience has been tried and it is true. And while our story of progress has taken a few twists and turns, Kansas has always found its way forward.
My own path to this podium was a very unlikely one. I wasn’t born into politics. But I was born into public service. I’m the daughter of a career military officer.
My parents taught me to put service and sacrifice above self. Like so many military families do each day. I lived on an army post most of my childhood – surrounded by service men and women. So, their sacrifices were always front and center.
A daily part of my growing up – and it made me even more grateful for their commitment to our country. Just like the families of deployed Kansas National Guard members who are here with us today.
When my dad went to Korea – and left us safe in America – I saw the worry and anxiety on my mother’s face. I felt the tension in our home every day until he returned.
I want you to know we recognize your sacrifices and we are eternally grateful. Your families will always be in my thoughts and actions.
You see, public service is in my blood. When I graduated high school, I went to work helping kids who faced significant challenges and struggles. And since then, it has been my mission to do right by our children and families.
That mission brought me here to Kansas over three decades ago. My husband and I chose to put down roots here, because to us, Kansas represented the very best of America. The story of Kansas is one of equality and opportunity. Decent, honest people working hard for their families. Vibrant cities and proud small towns. Strong, top-notch public schools.
But more than anything, we were drawn to the sense of community. Kansas is the type of place you want to raise your family. Where strangers still say hello to each other. And neighbors look out for one another.
That’s what we knew made Kansas so special 32 years ago. And it still does.
The people of Kansas never lost track of that. But, somewhere along the way, that spirit of neighbor-helping-neighbor that runs so strong in our communities failed to extend into this building.
Public service began to give way to partisanship. And the voices of Kansas families were not heard. Kansas lost its sense of self. Its sense of community. We can’t let that happen again. We must be bigger than that. We must be guided by the values we share.
We must forge a new chapter in our story, starting today.
Because there’s so much that connects us as Kansans. We want the same basic things. We want to know that our hard work will be respected. Not just with a pat on the back, but with a fair and livable wage and a chance to grow.
We want to know that good health care will be there when we need it and getting sick won’t mean a second mortgage or worse homelessness. We want to look forward to retirement, not fear it.
And, more than anything, we want our children to be happy and safe. We want them to see the future as whatever they want it to be, not held back by anything. To succeed at whatever they choose to pursue, and be able to do it close to home.
So much of that starts in our public schools. Schools are the center of our communities. Strong schools unlock the doors of opportunity in a changing economy. Strong schools ignore the circumstances a child is born into and put that child on equal footing.
A quality education is what we cherish as Kansans.
And our school teachers aren’t line items on a budget; they’re pillars of our communities. Deserving of our respect and our gratitude. In the words of our own Dwight Eisenhower – “Teachers need our active support and encouragement. They are doing one of the most necessary and exacting jobs in the land. They are developing our most precious national resource: our children, our future citizens.”
Those are words worth remembering.
The next time you see a teacher, thank her – thank him. Because there’s no higher calling than educating our children. It’s public service at its very best. And we must do more in Kansas to lift up those who serve – and encourage more to join their ranks.
We see Kansans signing up every day to serve in the military, in law enforcement or in our schools. We also see Kansans signing up to coach a youth sports team, to be a mentor, to be a leader in the faith community, to volunteer.
When I worked at the Kansas Recreation and Park Association, I was always so inspired by the folks who keep up the parks and ball fields in small towns across this state. They often don’t get paid much. They often work more than one job. But they are committed to making their communities better one day at a time. One baseball game at a time. One theater performance at a time.
And this work makes a difference in the quality of our lives in our communities. There are a lot of ways to serve. And today I ask all Kansans to find new ways to give back. To do a little more to make your community a better place to live.
For those of us who are elected leaders, we must not only heed that same call to serve – we have a special responsibility to live by the example that Kansans set every day.
We must work together in the spirit of putting the collective good ahead of any individual ambition or agenda. We must seek to lift up all Kansans regardless of whether they look like us, think like us, worship like us, love like us or vote like us.
That’s how I approached business in the State Senate. It’s the message we campaigned on last year. And it will be my guiding principle as your governor.
That’s what Kansans expect of us and have every right to demand of us.
Because when Kansans sign up to volunteer at a local school event, or shovel snow for an elderly neighbor – they’re not doing it as Democrats or Republicans. They’re just doing what’s right; doing their part to make life a little better for those around them.
We need to bring that same spirit of service and cooperation back to this building. And let the insults and finger-pointing give way to compromise and a hand-shake. By putting down the partisan swords – and lifting up the values that unite us as Kansans.
Because in a day and age when our politics can seem so small, we must be as big as the people who sent us here.
That’s Kansas. It’s who we are.
And that’s the new chapter we must write. And we’ll write it together, starting today.
God bless you all. And may God bless the Great State of Kansas.